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Review of “Oil To Ashes Part 2 and Part 3″ by Lee Brait

Oil To Ashes continues with part two of this three novella story about Linc Freemore, a man living in a shattered society where the United States is at war with the Middle East.  It doesn’t matter if it is a single country or a coalition, all the reader needs to know is that Linc has worked tirelessly for a company providing supplies to the soldiers overseas while things have deteriorated back home.  Biker gangs are plentiful and the police are scarce.  There are terror attacks and bombings, while oil has diminished and everyone is desperate.  Part 1 took Linc out on a road outside the city where he attempts to save a woman who has been attacked by a biker gang.  He manages to escape, only to discover that the gang now knows who he is and wants to get revenge on him and his family.  Part 1 ended abruptly and Linc’s efforts to save his family are spotlighted here in Part 2, Oil To Ashes: Truce.  With a backdrop of a potential truce between the West and the Middle East, Linc is forced to do battle with more biker gang members who want to tear his family apart.

For such a short tale, there are ample twists and turns in this story, with a much larger backstory being revealed bit by bit, including how the biker gangs are associated with corrupt corporate officials who are interested in war profiteering more than anything.  Unfortunately for Linc, wherever he turns, he ends up getting buried deeper in the trouble he kicked off in part one.  A biker with a brother who wants revenge turns into a larger family looking for a way to either use or kill Linc.  Linc gets himself and those he loves into nearly impossible situations and manages to find a way out of them.  While it isn’t revealed what his background is, it is once again clear that he has some military experience dealing with life and death situations.

Part 2 ends as abruptly as Part 1 did, but fortunately Part 3 was immediately available for free on the kindle.

Oil To Ashes: Truce can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Oil-Ashes-Truce-ebook/dp/B00M5LSUMM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1431386149&sr=8-1&keywords=lee+brait

Oil To Ashes: Warehouse wraps up this trilogy of novellas about Linc Freemore, a man who, on the surface, appears to be a working class everyday Joe caught up in a very bad situation.  It became pretty clear in Part 1 of the trilogy that he has to be ex-military with, as they say, ‘a very particular set of skills’.  Up to this point, he has gotten in and out of more trouble than even James Bond, and the threat of danger to his family is far greater than it has been.  The story has also come full circle, making much clearer who is behind the plot to destroy Linc and what forces are diametrically opposed to those who want him dead, though they have little interest in keeping Linc’s family safe, either.  Instead, they choose to use him to advance their cause against the corrupt corporate leaders who continue to profit off the war with the Middle East that appears to be coming to an end.

Much of this novella takes place in and around the warehouse that Linc must gain access to so he can fulfill his part of a dangerous bargain he made with people holding his wife and son hostage.  Yet again, he goes through perils that would kill most men, and yet does not reveal how he is capable of enduring such trials.  A desperate urge to protect ones family can only take you so far if you have no training to deal with combat situations and torture.  Still, this is an entertaining final chapter in this tale.  While this story is complete, there is a promise of more from the author with hints on how a new story about Linc might unfold.

Oil To Ashes: Warehouse can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Oil-Ashes-Warehouse-Freemore-Apocalyptic-ebook/dp/B00UY66YOG/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1431386149&sr=8-3&keywords=lee+brait

Review of Rachel Aukes’ “Deadlands Rising”

Deadlands Rising wraps up the Deadland’s trilogy.  Cash, Clutch, and the diminished group of close nit survivors that they call family are working on making it to the promised safe haven in New Eden, to the west of where they have been fighting to survive in Iowa for the bulk of the first two books.  New Eden is a fenced in community in Nebraska surrounding an old abandoned missile silo.  Marco, last of the squad from New Eden sent out to find survivors, promises to lead the group to safety behind its walls.

The first two novels of the trilogy followed the path of most zombie sagas with an equal mix of catastrophe and despair served up on almost every page.  This novel follows a slightly different track.  The author has modeled all three works after Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, with the first representing hell, the second purgatory, and this, the third book, heaven, or paradise.  The seven virtues laid out in Paradiso are laid out as section headings of this book, with the flavor of the third act is distinctly different from the first two.  Paradise is more of a wish than reality for the survivors, with the threat of the undead diminished, but never too far away.  The zombies have either migrated with the hordes to the south where it is warmer or have started to freeze solid in the bitterly cold Midwestern winter.  They are less of a threat and have been replaced with new dangers that are perhaps even more dire for the few living humans who remain.  I gave the author credit for crafting massive, almost unfathomable hordes of the undead churning up everything in their path in the previous book.  A slow moving, undeniable destroyer of all in its path was a concept I’d not seen used to effect in other zombie novels.  In the third book, she takes another intriguing result of a world ravaging plague and squeezes as much potential terror out of it as possible.  Wild packs of dogs, abandoned by their owners, have managed to survive by feasting on the dead-devouring the undead they could cull from the herd.  Infected with a variation of the plague, they do not turn but have the equivalent of rabies.  With as fervent a hunger as the undead and a bite that is equally lethal, they serve as both symbols of fear and tragedy.  Innocent, those not destroyed and devoured alongside their masters get to suffer a fate far worse than death, through no fault of their own.

Of course, rabid animals are not the only threat in the conclusion to this saga.  Facing a brave, or terrifying, new world in the aftermath of the plague is one of the biggest struggles the characters face.  What will happen and who will be guiding humanity’s attempts to rebuild are the daunting questions they must face, along with the consequences of the paths those who lead decide to follow.

The author does an excellent job of bring this story to a conclusion which should satisfy most readers…especially those who have likely grown weary of what I would dub the ‘never ending story syndrome’ that is rife in apocalyptic fiction and in other genres as well.  Authors who insist on leaving plotlines open and loose ends loose so more of the story can be told in either another trilogy or another book with no promise of completion.  Rachel Aukes wraps things up nicely here, with no loose ends.  While the author pulled no punches when it comes to how grim things got for the main characters, a spark of hope remained throughout the story, even when it threatened to be snuffed out for good on numerous occasions.

The connection to The Divine Comedy is, for the most part, in the background enough that someone unfamiliar with Dante’s masterpiece will not get distracted by it, though those who are familiar with it should appreciate the author’s efforts at sharing the zombified version of a journey through hell, purgatory, and the attempt to rise up into paradise.

Deadlands Rising can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Deadland-Rising-Saga-Volume/dp/1508583064/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

At Hell’s Gates Anthology Book Trailer

Not so long ago, I had the privilege of submitting a short story to the upcoming third installment in the ongoing series of horror anthologies called At Hell’s Gates.  I have reviewed the first two books, At Hell’s Gates: Existing Worlds and At Hell’s Gates: Origins of Evil (both reviews can be found here, on my blog).  I had a short story that I felt fit the theme of book three, At Hell’s Gates: Bound By Blood.  It’s a devious little short I entitled Little Lost Lamb.  Fortunately, it was accepted, and now I have the privilege of being a part of this charity project.

The proceeds from the sales of these books go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  You can find out more about this worthy cause over on the At Hell’s Gates website: http://athellsgates.com/our-cause/ and donate directly to the cause.  Of course, the hope is that you’ll also buy a few copies of these anthologies.  If you are a fan of horror, they are worth checking out, plus you can feel good for contributing to a great cause as you read a series of twisted and disturbing stories.  And fear not, after the third volume is released, others will be coming, including future themes Fall of Madness and A History of Violence.  

More to come on Volume 3 once it is released-where you can get it, the finalized cover, etc.  But for now, I wanted to share with you a really killer book trailer covering the first three installments in this series.  I would expound further on how killer it is, but instead, I thought I would just share the link so you can go check it out on youtube without further ado: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6XbRnX1gvQ&feature=youtu.be

Review of “At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two-Origins of Evil”

At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two focuses on the theme of ‘Origins of Evil’.  The first volume was an anthology that served in many ways as an introduction to the world’s the contributing authors had created in their various novel-length horror series.  Many of the stories served as add-ons or addendums to those tales-they were short stories with a very large shadow looming behind them.  Volume Two has mainly standalone offerings from each contributor.

While I appreciate stories that add to a bigger world, there is something about the stand alone tale, especially in the horror genre, that makes it compelling.  Sometimes the smaller slices of hell are the most dark and make you despair the most.  That is why this volume has stepped up its game over the first volume.  So many of these stories sucked me in, chewed me up, and spit me back out.  Brutal like an assault in a back alley, they leave you dazed and curled up in the fetal position, whimpering and shivering in fear.

If purchasing this anthology was nothing more than an excuse to donate to a worthy cause, I’d have been happy to chip in.  The cause is an excellent one: The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  But this anthology is also worth the price of admission because the stories on its pages are worthy of the investment, charity or no charity involved.

Here is a quick synopsis of each tale included in this work.

Pulse by Mark Tufo: A scientist builds a better mousetrap.  Well, a better way to kill bugs.  Unfortunately, it has an affinity for killing other living beings as well.

Cookies for the Gentleman by C.T. Phillips: A tale madness and desperation that spirals into a very dark, grim place for narrator…a place that threatens to suck the reader in along with him.

By Any Means Necessary by Evin Ager: An army grunt guarding terrorists at a secret military prison discovers the inmates are being used for some very unscrupulous supernatural testing.

History’s End by Frank Tayell:  The best intentions to save mankind from itself can have the most drastic, unforeseen consequences.

A Mother’s Nightmare by J. Rudolph:  Could you cope with the loss of all you hold dear?  What would you do if you were faced with crushing despair that comes with the destruction of all that you love?

Patient 63 by Stevie Kopas:  Infection transforms most of the world into subhuman monsters.  Humanity fights back, discovering a cure.  The question then becomes whether the infection is the villain or humanity itself?

Tyrannical Ascension by Shana Festa: We return to the author’s Time of Death zombie apocalypse series and are introduced to the man who would be king, or at least someone who has designs on such status in a world overrun by the undead.

Ink by James Crawford:  The world’s most elite tattoo artist creates his masterpiece on a living canvas.  The man blessed with this art is also cursed with an unquenchable desire to find the hidden meaning behind its dark beauty, to the everlasting despair of anyone who crosses his path.

The Man with Four Scars by Stephen Kozeniewski: Assures the reader that the undead have been with us long before Romero introduced them.  A caveman discovers a recently crashed meteorite and the strange effects it has on his tribe.

Daddy’s Girl by Ian McClellan: Reiterates the sage advice that it is best not to judge thy neighbor for their sins when you yourself are a sinner…even if your neighbor might be a malevolent supernatural being.

Operation Devil Walk by David Mickolas: That the Nazis sought out supernatural assistance to give them more power to defeat their enemies is well established.  Their hatred for Jews is undisputed.  The idea of combining those two things is horrific.

The Infected by S.G. Lee: A naïve young doctor falls for the manipulations of an ultra-competitive and ultra-sleazy coworker while working on experimental medical treatments that could extend the viability of organs used in transplants.

Forget Me Never by Sharon Stevenson: Fame is never everlasting.  Or is it?  Some are willing to kill for it and to even keep killing to maintain it.

Mirage by Sean T. Smith: A twisty, tragic sci-fi tale of giving up and giving in…when your goal is tantalizingly just out of reach…or is that perhaps just a mirage?

The Millstone by Lesa Kinney Anders: We all have our burdens.  It’s said that if you save someone’s life, you are responsible for them for them forever.  Is the same true if you destroy their life?

Genesis by Kit Power: How far would you be willing to go to show God how cheated you feel when you beg, plead, and pray for intervention, only get ignored time and again?

Lockdown by TM Caldwell: What’s a teacher to do when the dead have risen and are roaming the halls of the school?  Especially if you are on lockdown and you have a room full of panicked grade-schoolers to look after?

Collection Night by Curran Geist: How far would you go to protect your wife and child?  How dark could the nightmare become before you lost your nerve?

The Cold by Devan Sagliani: Life can suck.  Whether by your own doing or if you choose to blame everyone else for your failures, it can always suck just a little bit more…especially if you accidentally dabble with the supernatural.

A Different Cocktail by Claire C. Riley: Sure, I’d be skeptical too about a ritual that promises to bring forth a vampire master, but if you want to get lucky with a goth girl, why not partake in the ‘blood’ you’ve been offered that is supposed to summon him?  What’s the worst that could happen?

A Song to Sing in Babylon by Bobbie Metevier & Matthew Baugh: The old world is dying and change is painful…not only for the human race but those who have hidden in the shadows for generations.  Humans believe that God is punishing us while the others believe they are being rewarded with a world transformed into something more accommodating.  But what if they’re both wrong?

The Gouger by Paul Mannering: Somewhat reminiscent of the Stephen King short story, “The Mangler”, the Gouger is a grinder used to liquefy fish guts and anything else fishermen bring to the Makula Bay Fishing Co-op.  It’s also Tommy Malone’s favorite machine.  He loves to watch it consume and dreams of it consuming the world.

Overall, horror anthologies tend to be a mixed bag.  I tend to rate them on overall experience, though it often takes only one story that leaves me squirming in discomfort to satisfy me.  Naturally, not every story resonates with every reader, and for me this anthology was no exception.  A few stories just didn’t hit the mark for me.  With that said, the majority did, and I’m happy (or perhaps disconcerted?) to say that several left me squirming.  So this book is a double whammy: the proceeds are going to a very worthy charity and the book itself is a worthy read.

At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-Two/dp/1508448833/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8

Review of Stephen North’s “Beneath The Mask”

Beneath The Mask is a recreation of a prior Stephen North story, a re-envisioning of his first book with the same title. Sergeant Alex Cray of the Florida National Guard is dealing with what appears to be a biological attack on the Tampa Bay area. He and the rest of the soldiers facing the situation have seen people dying from some sort of plague that leaves them with sores on their faces and a homicidal streak that borders on madness. It is clear that this situation is spreading to other parts of the country and globe and even more shocking, it is perhaps coming from something beyond our world.
Strange events unfold with little explanation around Alex. While the citizens in the area are desperate to survive, there are others who appear in the area that look human, though they seem transformed and almost alien in their physical perfection. Sergeant Cray is forced to kill to defend himself and the various people he comes into contact with that he feels are worth saving as things continue to deteriorate around him. At first he fears the plague that has permeated the area and like the rest of the soldiers, is supposed to continue wearing his MOPP suit-the protective bio-containment outfit that prevents airborne viruses from infecting you. But it doesn’t take him long to realize that life behind the mask is no longer worth living. After stripping his containment suit, Alex is forced to continue stripping away other masks that civilization has put in place for him. He puzzles over the deterioration of his and others humanity while seeking answers as to what the truth is behind the strange people and strange vessels that have arrived in the area that look like nothing anyone on earth could have created.
Beneath The Mask has been transformed from a traditional first day apocalyptic tale of survival into a story that combines elements of this and that of a futuristic thriller. The author wrote another story, The Drifter, which had a noir/Blade Runner type flavor to it, though it mostly takes place elsewhere and else when and there are hints here that these two sagas will be tied together in a series of adventures, as elements from the second book have bled through here, in Beneath The Mask.
Stephen North’s writing preference is typically first person, present tense, and this story is written in this format. While there are some challenges with this style, because the reader can only see what Alex sees and hears in each instance, it steeps you in the moment, dealing with everything the main character faces with no additional time to react. There is no time to debate whether to pull the trigger or to leave someone for dead when things are constantly shifting and moving all around you. The story is not driven by one particular objective, although Alex’s instant to instant reactions are shaped by the strange realities he has discovered and must come to grips with, which drives him to focus on certain objectives-most of which have to do with staying alive. His alliances are also driven by gut instinct and the desire to retain a kernel of humanity within him, even while he is forced to do mostly unspeakable things to keep himself and those he cares for alive.
The author has created the start of a rollicking adventure tale that has the potential to transcend timelines and realities. Alex does seem almost too reactionary in this story-pulled by outside forces in different directions on a constant basis, rather than focusing on anything beyond moment to moment survival. Of course, the author puts a steady flow of roadblocks in front of him to provide him with all sorts of adventures, but he is almost philosophically detached from one of the only overriding objectives he returns to throughout the book-the desire to see if his parents are still alive. Of course, there are far greater missions for Sergeant Cray to involve himself in, but I would have liked to see him push a little harder in an effort to achieve this objective. Despite this minor concern, the author has created an all-to-human hero that fails as much as he succeeds, still tries to do what is right even when nothing he does seems to matter, and still is able to fight to retain a grip on what makes him human even if at times there seems to be no good reason to do so anymore.
Beneath The Mask can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Beneath-Mask-Drifter-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00QL64P8A/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1421418407&sr=8-3&keywords=beneath+the+mask

Review of Eloise Knapp’s “The Undead Haze”

The Undead Haze is the follow up to the author’s first novel, The Undead Situation, where we were introduced to self-proclaimed sociopath, Cyrus V. Sinclair. Cyrus is the narrator here, as he was in the first book, and thus we get to see the world only through his eyes. His claim of being a sociopath are dampened from the get go here, even by his own admission. In reviewing the first novel, I made it clear that it was debatable whether he was truly a sociopath. But since the story is told by the main character, we only have his proclamation to go by as to whether it is true or not.
Here, it becomes clear that Cyrus’s feelings for Blaze, the woman he lost track of before the end of the first book, don’t jive with that of a true sociopath. It is more likely that Blaze is closer to a text book definition of sociopath, at least based on how she acted and reacted to others, including Cyrus, the first book. The majority of this novel is spent with Cyrus wanting to find Blaze because of the feelings he has developed for her. Naturally, because of the state the world is in, there are some tremendous perils brought on by both the living and the dead. Cyrus crosses paths with someone who has the potential to help him find Blaze, if she is still alive, though he will have to go through hell on earth in the process.
Much of the criticism I saw in reviews of the first novel were due to Cyrus’s proclamation that he was a sociopath when there were aspects of his personality that left that up for debate. Much of the criticism I have seen in reviews of this novel are due to the fact that Cyrus shows far more vulnerability and humanity than a sociopath ever would. He works hard to convince himself that he has no need for others, that he is still using them, and is purposefully callous on occasion, but he shows far more fear, a willingness to open himself up to others, and more of a desire to help others than ever before. Again, since both stories are told in first person, all the reader has to go on is Cyrus’s proclamations about himself, rather than based on any truth that may have been revealed had his story been told in third person. The only thing for certain is that Cyrus V. Sinclair is a bit more complicated than a one word description of his personality type.
The Undead Haze, is in some ways a more complicated story, like its protagonist has become, than the one found in the first book. Cyrus is forced further and further outside his comfort zone. He is beaten and bloodied for long stretches of this tale. He’s weak, vulnerable, and at the mercy of others who he must rely upon. He is obsessed with another person, feeling something akin to love, which becomes the driving force in his life. This is what drives this story and will likely determine whether a reader likes this book more, or less than the first one. Cyrus is still, for the most part, a disagreeable character, but one who is far more human than before. He questions whether or not what he seems to becoming is who he truly is, rather than the sociopath he believed himself to be in the past.
Naturally, this is a character driven story, with the events that unfold on its pages being secondary to how Cyrus experiences them. There are traditional zombie slow movers with a mix of fast movers (those that have recently turned) which are one threat to Cyrus, but they are not the worst danger for him. It the human dangers that are far worse.
The author’s writing has gotten sharper and she has nurtured Cyrus into something far more complex than the one dimensional, smug jerk he was in the first book. While in many ways he is still irredeemable, he has expanded greatly beyond what he was to begin with in this book. It will be interesting to see where he ends up going in the third act of his saga.
The Undead Haze can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Undead-Haze-Situation-Book-Volume/dp/1618680730/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1420788356&sr=1-2

Review of David Jacob Knight’s “The Phone Company”

The Tether. The name drums up an image of something that holds you in place, latches on to you, and links you to others that are also connected in a similar fashion. The Tether in The Phone Company is the name of the latest mobile device being offered by the eponymous organization to their customers. PCo, for short, didn’t make the Tether, but they have taken full advantage of its endless capabilities as a device to connect everyone to each other. Just sign up, get connected, and work to become one of the Top 12 of the PCo family. Its aps are remarkable, giving its customers almost magic-like abilities to peak into the world of their neighbors, to control machinery, and to retrieve virtually any information instantaneously.
PCo has set up shop in Cracked Rock, Montana, building a data center on the cemetery where the town founders have been buried. While there are protests about what they have done, most of the citizens are too excited about the free phones being offered to students and other members of the community to have a problem with it. Cracked Rock is a town that is hurting. Several years earlier a boy went on a shooting spree at the local middle school, tearing the town apart. While this was happening, Steve, one of the teachers in the high school, avoided his kids being victims because they were facing another nightmare at the local hospital: the death of Janice, his wife, due to lung cancer.
Steve and Bill, his best friend and a deputy sheriff in town, are about the only two members of the community not thrilled with the new Tethers and the increased presence of PCo. Both are given free Tethers as public servants, but Steve would rather stick with his old phone that both he and his wife used years before and Bill isn’t interested in agreeing to the background check the Tether requires to grant him access to all the neat law enforcement tools it has to offer.
It doesn’t take long for this thriller to migrate to more of a supernatural horror, with strange events occurring all around town. It seems that everyone is discovering unique aps on their phones, like JJ, Steve’s son, who discovers he can inhabit the bodies of soldiers and rebels doing battle in a variety of wars across the globe. Sarah, Steve’s daughter, realizes she has a popularity ap that not only gauges her popularity against the other girls in her high school, it also provides guidance on what she can do to claw her way to the top of the list.
If you have read the author’s previous work, The Pen Name, it becomes clear very quickly that both these tales inhabit the same eerie world. The mysterious publishing company from the first book pays a brief visit here, and the main character from that tale had been laid off from the phone company prior to being sucked into his own mystery. The author’s prior work seemed a bit more subtle as the world around the main character unraveled in bits and pieces. In Cracked Rock, things seem to tumble down the rabbit hole in a more abrupt fashion, though everyone seems fairly happy with the results. The mysterious Provider, who is behind the all-consuming need to be connected, is spoken about with a reverence bordering on religiously zealotry by the faithful.
This story, like its predecessor, has flavors of Lovecraft mixed in with King and begins as a thriller that migrates more into the realm of supernatural horror before the story is complete. The writing is solid though Steve, the main character, doesn’t feel as strongly developed as Ben was in The Pen Name. Perhaps because it felt like Steve didn’t seem to sense what was going wrong all too quickly in the pages of the story. He seems to be more of a passive reactionary to a great deal of what is happening, at least until everything has gone off the rails entirely. He is unhappy, discontented, but slow to engage with Graham, the ever present PCo representative, and all too willing to hope for the best.
Overall, The Phone Company is still a very intriguing story. It pokes and prods at how worthwhile it is to live in a world where we are hyper-connected to one another, where there is an ap for everything and our lives are on display for everyone via social media. We bemoan our loss of privacy and yet cannot look away, or stop contributing to the deluge of information shared with one another. The book takes that in a supernatural direction, turning the need for connection into a religious fervor that devours everyone who submits.
The Phone Company can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Phone-Company-David-Jacob-Knight/dp/1503361993/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1420306490&sr=8-1

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